Rodriguez directed Machete as well. He first came to prominence directing the El Mariachi series of films, the second of which, Desperado, has the same weakness as Machete, in that the first four fifths of the film are great, balls out pulp, and the last fifth dumps all the paint in the pail, resulting in greyed out mess.
I'm not against the idea of an action movie starting out with one of the villains shooting and killing a pregnant woman. Some people say that one should avoid any and all things that might trigger terrible psychological reactions in the audience unless it's done "tastefully". There are two reasons I disagree with that view--first of all, what's generally considered tasteful generally makes me want to throw up, yet people keep making Lifetime movies without regard to my sensitivities. Second of all, I think there are many people who've had bad, traumatic experiences, who like seeing realistically brutal assholes getting their asses put through meat grinders, and who find stilted tip-toeing around certifiably bad shit to be profoundly grating.
But, if you begin your movie with something like a pregnant woman being murdered (as Machete does), you can't end the movie with a full out battle sequence where all the good guys live and all the bad guys die. That, to me, isn't just insulting, it's boring and eerie. It's like footage from a concentration camp that abruptly ends with a crude drawing of all the inmates smiling together in a flowery field. You wonder where the real ending is.
In fact, incredibly enough, it's tastefulness that is generally at the root of Machete's problem. 85% or so is great, extreme, holy shit--Machete driving cars through guys, Machete blowing apart heads and limbs without breaking stride, Machete pulling out internal organs and using them as tools to kill other guys, Machete coming across beautiful naked women who want to fuck him every five minutes or so. And it's especially effective because the bad guys are killing innocent women and children, and are loaded with real life racist immigration issues. I saw one review that said Robert DeNiro was over the top as Senator McLaughlin, but he actually came off for me as pretty damn close to the batshit that comes out of Glenn Beck's or Sarah Palin's mouth. Now, one might ask, is it fair to say Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck would personally shoot and kill a pregnant woman coming across the border in order to prevent a baby from becoming a citizen? Some of the incredibly rancorous words coming from people about repealing the 17th amendment kind of suggest such brutality, but one suspects these people would baulk at direct murder. A movie like this can be helpful in making the meaning of carelessly cruel words more tangible and, for the other side, act as wish fulfilment in slaughtering representations of bad ideas without suggesting murder of real people, who are more complex when you meet them.
Machete ought to have been the story of an essentially good, but somewhat morally grey man of action caught in the middle of a philosophically real culture clash while remaining also above it--like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, a film Machete pays homage to in the opening credits. Instead, Rodriguez felt it necessary to burden the plot with needless ifs, buts, and alsos--perhaps spurred by this incident referred to in the film's Wikipedia entry;
A fake trailer for the film was released on May 5, 2010, through Ain't It Cool News. The trailer opened with Danny Trejo saying, "This is Machete with a special Cinco de Mayo message to Arizona," followed by scenes of gun fire, bloodshed, and highlights of the cast. The fake trailer combined elements of the Machete trailer that appeared in Grindhouse with footage from the actual film, and implied that the film would be about Machete leading a revolt against anti-immigration politicians and border vigilantes. According to Fox News, critics of illegal immigration were offended by the contents of the movie trailer.
However, Rodriguez later revealed the trailer to be a joke, explaining "it was Cinco de Mayo and I had too much tequila."
Instead, the movie's saddled with the right wing senator and border vigilantes having ties to a Mexican druglord and Machete's every action having sometimes secret, irreproachable motives that only happen to coincide with his need for vengeance. The worse is a bit of looped dialogue where Michelle Rodriguez is taking Danny Trejo into her home after he's been injured apparently trying to assassinate the senator. In an exterior shot where it's really unnatural, we hear Rodriguez say something like, "Of course I know you had no choice, why else would you give me the money?" Meaning that she'd deduced from the fact that Machete had given her the $150,000 payment for the assassination that Machete had had no way of backing out of the deal. We're required to make a bunch of leaps of logic in order to reach one big, pointless leap of logic in a movie that's supposed to be all visceral all the time.
Mostly I loved the cast, even Lindsay Lohan, who in a few short scenes reminded me that it is tragic that she's spectacularly throwing her career away. I've never been a fan of Steven Seagal, and for most of the movie I considered him a huge weak point. I know he's actually trained in martial arts, which makes it all the stranger that all of his actions completely lack visual credibility. Of course, no-one should really be able to do the kind of damage with punches you see being done in the movie, but Seagal looks like a giant infant feebly flailing his arms. His obvious hair plugs don't help, either. I was completely not into Seagal until his very last lines, which I actually thought were intriguing and well delivered.
It felt like there wasn't enough Danny Trejo in the movie. Jessica Alba's performance was characteristically flat and a sharp anachronism among the much better actors. Michelle Rodriguez would've been a more satisfying love interest for Machete. But mainly, I give the movie thumbs up.
I kept wanting to call it "Mat-chete" because of Little Lupe;